Lost And Looking For Redemption In The Mountains of Juarez

Man#26, The Other Truth series, Juarez, May 2011

Christmas Eve/El Paso

A Personal Narrative

Lost and abandoned. Christmas Eve reminds me of that, right now, as I look out my south-facing window to Juarez (three blocks away) across the valley of Juarez, to the foothills of the Sierra Madre, where Creamac sits, CREAMAC, the “mental Institution” there, where the people huddle, people with trouble, trying to be warm, trying to make sense of the world, trying to live. CREAMAC, the House of the Abandoned and Troubled and Hurt.

I should be there. Today. Often. More often. I struggle with that. It’s snowing outside. Excuses to stay home, safe, just wrestling my own demons. I should cross the bridge (would my car get back over the ice on the bridge later tonight?), I should do SOMETHING!

Do I?

I rummage in my image files and find Man #26 and post his image.

What for?

Does this help him?

Do these images ever help? Are they for Man #26 or are they for me?

I’ve reached a place in photography that I really don’t recognize. I know that when I was young I had the ego to believe that whatever I did mattered. My photography mattered. I mattered. If I did something the world would notice. And, I just knew, the world would do the right thing.
I don’t know that now. I don’t know that anyone really wants to know. Worse, I don’t know if knowing matters.
Here I sit, warm, looking out my window, at the tough tough world of Juarez blanketed in snow -covered up- and my years tell me this is not a Christmas Carol but a weather condition that will kill the poor and the troubled and the abandoned, tonight.

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Perspectives shift.

My “God” has been photography (one of them). I no longer completely believe that that “God” can or will work for the good, that images can or will motivate people to do their best. I have seen too many instances of indifference trumping good intentions and know that no amount of images can or will change that, where do I go from there?

Forget the embarrassment of even toying with the idea that “The Work” does not matter. Screw me! The thought that the people in the “The Work” aren’t affected by it -assisted by it- is a way deeper and more wounding thought than mere embarrassment. It is the possibilty of futility that scares me. Forget the fear of being too old and throwing in the towel. It isn’t me I started to do this work for…it was them. I’d lay the camera down now, today, forever, if I could see a way to do something to realize that ambition.

I guess at a certain point we’re stuck with the skills we struggled to learn. It’s the camera for me.

And redemption, I suspect, starts with surrender to the idea that there can be futility and the hope for something just a little bit above it. Call it hope (but that word was destroyed, three years ago, probably for a generation, in a cheap presidential sales pitch). No I won’t call it hope. I’ll call it faith that any action one takes for good reasons -causes- can have an effect, especially if you join others and, maybe, just maybe, photography is my small way of joining with others -not leading them, but leading me out of nothingness, my way into the world. I know that’s true.

Perhaps redemption comes with odor and blood, time and effort and motion and the only way to do something to assist the people of CREAMAC is to return there, bring something, leave something, do something.It takes time. It takes more courage than I actually have. But the stench of fear is a motivator. To sit and be comfortable when your heart is only open -alive- in these difficult places, where the possibility of mattering surfaces, again, in one’s heart is only a temporary option. It only happens for awhile. We don’t get to chose our death but we can chose not to be alive. I chose to be alive, still.
Tonight I think of each person I met and worked with in the hills of Juarez, under the beautiful last Guadalupe that is etched into the side of the mountain, high up, almost visible from my window (with binoculars) their faces in agony and bliss, doubt and sadness, and occasionally, the totally delusional face of honesty, every face of every person, vulnerable, all over there, under the scratched word “Biblia,” carved into the Mountain of Juarez, far far from here, a few miles away.
I will go back. I may not go back with a camera.

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